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British independent schools record 6% growth in foreign students in 2020

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Chinese student numbers continue to grow in independent K-12 schools in the UK, while the growth curve for Russia is trending downward
  • The number of British independent schools operating outside of the UK continues to grow as well

The number of students in British K-12 independent schools reached a record high this year, and 58,650 of these students were international, split between those with parents overseas and those whose parents relocated to the UK to be with them during their schooling. Based on nearly 1,400 member schools reporting, this total foreign enrolment as of January 2020, as per the 2020 Independent Schools Council (ISC) Census, is up from 55,280 in 2019. This is a 6.1% increase, double the growth of 3% that was reported in 2019.

Of those with parents in the UK, almost half are from other EU countries, representing an 11% increase over 2019; the ISC considers this growth an interesting finding given the Brexit process.

With regards to students whose parents are not with them in the UK, the largest numbers are from Mainland China (including Hong Kong), as the map below illustrates.

Nationality of foreign students at ISC schools, 2020. Source: ISC
Nationality of foreign students at ISC schools, 2020. Source: ISC

As has been the case in recent years, the number of students from Mainland China continues to grow for ISC schools, but fewer Russian students are coming to study, as the following graphic showing growth trends from 2007–2020 illustrates. The number of students from Hong Kong remains stable.

Enrolment trends for selected sending markets, foreign students whose parents live overseas, 2007–2020. Source: ISC
Enrolment trends for selected sending markets, foreign students whose parents live overseas, 2007–2020. Source: ISC

More overseas schools

More international students are studying in British independent schools located outside of the UK than there are international students studying in ISC schools located in the UK. And there has been a significant increase in the number of ISC schools operating abroad. There are now 69 ISC overseas schools providing education to 46,410 international students. Last year there were 58 such campuses, and the year before that, in 2018, there were 47.

Almost half of ISC overseas schools are in Mainland China, educating nearly 20,000 students. While China is up by three ISC schools in 2020, there has been a slight contraction in the Middle East (down two schools since the last Census).

Location of overseas campuses operated by ISC member schools, 2020. Source: ISC
Location of overseas campuses operated by ISC member schools, 2020. Source: ISC

For additional background, please see:


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